Ferns are fascinating! They are an ancient family of plants with a prominent place in folklore—especially on St. John’s Eve (June 23) and St. John’s Day (June 24).
Ferns first show up in fossil records from a time over 100 million years BEFORE dinosaurs walked the Earth. In fact, ferns grew before flowering plants existed.
Long ago, people couldn’t explain how ferns reproduced since they lack flowers or seeds. (Today we know that ferns reproduce from spores.)
It was this mystery of the non-flowering fern that led to folklore about mystical flowers as seeds.
Here is some of the folklore that I have have found—and thought that you would enjoy …
Midsummer Eve Lore
- During the Middle Ages, ferns were thought to flower and produce seed only once a year—at midnight on St. John’s Eve (June 23) prior Midsummer;s Day.
- Since the seeds couldn’t be seen, they were believed to be invisible. Many attempts were made to collect them on St. John’s Eve because they allowed people to become invisible, see into the future, and have eternal youth.
- This folklore is intertwined with Midsummer Day (June 24); bathing in the dew on this morning was said to bring youthful glow, healing, and youthfulness.
- It was also believed that ferns DID flower—but only until the birth of Christ. When all the flowers bloomed in His honor and the fern did not, it was condemned to remain flowerless forever.
Ferns for Healing
People throughout the world frequently use ferns as medicines for various ailments, especially ancient tribes.
The spores on the underside of the fern provide relief to the stinging nettle (which is often nearby).
When boiled in oil or fat, Ophioglossum vulgatum has been used for wounds and to reduce inflammation.
A poultice or lotion made from the roots of Botrychium. virginianum has been applied to snakebites, bruises, cuts and sores in the Himalayas.
The powdered rhizomes of Adiantum lunulatum has been used as an antidote to snakebite in India.
Extract of fresh leaves of Nephrolepis cordifolia has been used to stop bleeding of cuts and help in blood coagulation.
The paste of the leaf of O. reticulatum has been applied to the forehead to get rid of headache.
Filtered water extract of rhizome of Abacopteris multilineata has been used for stomach pains.
The ancient fern has a history rich in symbolism. As mentioned above, ferns were seen as good luck, often for new lovers. The fern symbolizes eternal youth.
To the indigenous Maori of New Zealand, the fern represented new life and new beginnings.
To the Japanese, the fern symbolizes family and the hope for future generations.
According to Victorians, the fern symbolized humility and sincerity. Click to see the meaning of plants and flowers.
Starting in June, my woods and lowlands in New Hampshire fills ferns. (Ferns require liquid water to reproduce, which is why you’ll often find them near streams and moist, forested areas.)
They sprout from wet soil in late April and the young fiddleheads appear bright green against the decaying leaves.
Have you ever eaten fiddleheads? So-called because it looks like the tuning end of a fiddle, the fiddlehead the very top of the young ostrich fern, still tightly furled and sheathed in a covering that can be a challenge to remove. (Be aware that it’s only the ostrich variety that is edible. In addition, they must be picked before unfurling; the leaves that follow this growth phase are poisonous.) Many people in this area boil the young plant for an asparagus-like treat.
Some ferns are also grown as houseplants such as Boston Ferns and Staghorn Ferns. See tips about growing these ferns:
Boston ferns grow well with temperatures that are 68 to 75 degrees F during the day and 50 to 69 degrees F at night. They require humidity between 50 and 80 percent, and they do not like drafts. Boston ferns stop growing from fall to winter and during this dormant stage like the temperature to be 50 degrees, minimal watering (the soil should be barely moist), and no fertilizer. During the winter, mist the leaves twice a day. The fern’s root system can occupy up to three quarters of the solid space in the pot without harm, and this plant does not like to be repotted.
Staghorn ferns are often presented as gifts. They can not be planted in ordinary potting soil, so that’s the first thing to check. They should be placed on a piece of bark or (unreated) wood board. Place a few handfuls of damp sphagnum moss or orchid mix on the board and place the fern on top so that the flat round basal fronds are touching the board. Firmly secure the fern to the board with twine, a thin wire, or fishing line. (The fern will attach itself to the wood eventually.) To water staghorn fern, soak the entire arrangement in a bucket or sink. Keep the fern in the shade and water daily until it takes hold of the wood. Feed every two weeks year-round with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half.
I hope you discovered something new about the humble fern.
Do you have ferns in your area or do you grow ferns? Please share your thoughts on ferns—and folklore!